Plaintiff’s Motion for New Trial Granted as Jury Verdict Not Supported by Fair Interpretation of the Evidence

Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit, September 23, 2020

By way of background, the plaintiffs argued that the court erred in entering a judgment following the trial in November 2018. Notably, the plaintiffs set forth that the jury’s verdict was based on inconsistent answers to interrogatories. In February 2019, the court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a judgment notwithstanding verdict, or in the alternative, motion for new trial. In December 2019, the court found that the jury’s decisions were reasonable based on the evidence set forth during the trial.

However, the appellants/plaintiffs filed an application for rehearing to seek the reversal of the court’s December 2019 opinion. They contend that the jury reached a logically impossible result that directly conflicted with the directed verdicts granted by the district court. In support, the plaintiffs note that the jury found the plaintiff’s employer 75 percent at fault for the plaintiff’s exposure to asbestos, and did not find any of the producers of the asbestos products used by the plaintiff’s employer to be at fault.

Upon review, the court agreed with the appellants/plaintiffs. The court noted that the jury’s decision to find the plaintiff’s employer at fault, while also finding that the plaintiff was exposed to at least one asbestos product used by the plaintiff’s employer during the plaintiff’s employment and not apportioning any degree of fault to the manufacturers and/or distributors who were listed on the interrogatories, was illogical. The court further noted that the high degree of liability assigned to the plaintiff’s employer (75 percent) with no liability assigned to the asbestos manufacturer evidences juror confusion as the jury heard the plaintiff’s testimony alleging asbestos exposure from the products as well as the testimony of several experts on his behalf.

Under Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Art. 1813(E) and Louisiana caselaw, the court may order a new trial when answers to interrogatories or jury answers are inconsistent with the general verdict. In addition, under FIE, LLC v. New Jax Condo Ass’n, Inc., “a trial judge should grant a motion for new trial because a jury verdict is contrary to the law and evidence when the judge’s examination of the record, while exercising his discretion, convinces him that the judgment would result in a miscarriage of justice.” As the court noted that the jury verdict was not supported by a fair interpretation of the evidence, the court found that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the motion for a new trial. Thus, the court granted the application for rehearing, vacated its December 2019 opinion, vacated the trial court judgments of November 2018 and February 2019, and remanded the matter to the trial court for a new trial.

This opinion was decided on September 23, 2020. This decision is not final until the expiration of the 14-day rehearing period.